Joe Vandever – Navajo Code Talker

Navajo Code Talker Joe Vandever

Navajo Oral History Project

Joe Vandever - Navajo Code Talker

Photo by Elisenda Xifra Reverter

Joe Vandever Sr. lives in Haystack, New Mexico. After growing up near Grants, New Mexico, he was recruited into the 297th Platoon of the United States Marine Corps.

Joe Vandever - Navajo Code Talker

Photo by Elisenda Xifra Reverter

Joe was enlisted as a Navajo Code Talker, traveled on 16 different ships and saw action on several South Pacific islands during World War II. Returning from the war, Joe served the Diné people as a medicine man, practicing his spiritual rituals and beliefs that he still holds closely today.

Project completed by:

The project team working on a documentary film about Joe’s life includes Shannon Bolte and Joel Farber from Winona State University, and James McKenzie and Shawn Tsosie, Diné College students.

This documentary film was researched, photographed, edited and produced by students of Winona State University (Winona, Minnesota) and Diné College (Tsaile, Arizona, Navajo Nation) during summer 2012.

It contains stories Joe Vandever Sr. of Haystack, New Mexico, told the students during several hours of interviews about his life.

This documentary film is archived at the Navajo Nation MuseumNavajo Nation LibraryWinona State University Library, and Diné College Library, and will be archived at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The film is part of the Navajo Oral History project, a multi-year collaboration between the Winona State UniversityMass Communication Department and Diné College– The official Tribal College of the Navajo Nation



  1. It was an honor and a privilege to have met Joe in 2017. I can’t begin to explain how our conversation changed my life. I will be forever indebted to him for not only his sacrifice to our country, but the spiritual healing he has given so freely.

  2. Heidi Dusseau says

    I had the extreme honor to meet Joe in Albuquerque on Veteran’s Day 11/11/2016. He signed a book I purchased and told me a little about his service. My husband is Navajo so this was really a huge honor for me. I was very moved to actually meet a living legend. I will carry this memory with me all of the rest of my life.

  3. Albert Willie says

    It’s good to see Joe telling his amazing stories of his journey! I seen him 4 times in my whole life and I still whole every word he said to me in my heart wish I could see him again!! Thanks for all the good work you have done Joe Vandever Sr!

  4. Jon Smetzer says

    I met Joe 3 times in the mid 1990’s. Twice when he traveled to Ohio to visit his granddaughter and once when I delivered 2 pedal powered sewing machines to his home in New Mexico given to him by the mother of his granddaughter in Ohio. I have never met a more spiritually connected man than he. It was a great honor to have known him however briefly. Thank you for this work.

  5. Thank you for doing this for Grandpa Joe!

  6. Angie Austin says

    What an amazing story! I worked with 2 of Mr Joe’s grandsons, Nate and Ray Nez. They had told me about their grandfather. I am so thankful that his work has been documented for all to view.

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